Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado

The economic benefits of the pecans of the Concho River for the Jumano Indians

Published Feb 24th 2013 in History & People

The three arms of the Concho River meet at San Angelo. Each tributary is lined with pecan trees. Driving from Sterling City to Mertzon to Christoval a traveler can cross the majority of the upper Concho watershed. Juniper covers the hillsides and part of the valley bottoms, which also have mesquite and hackberry. Along the tributaries of the tributaries the pecans were once a prize resource of the Indian peoples who lived there.

Jumanos, the traders of the Tejas Alliance, (and their ancestors) lived in this resource rich region for centuries. John Wesley Arnn III believes that the hunter gatherer "social fields" of the Tejas Alliance existed as long as seven thousand years – not just at the time of the arrival of European peoples (both French and Spanish) in the 1500s and 1600s. This alliance (in the time period before Spanish settlement) included Rio Grande pueblo citizens in northern New Mexico, fish and cactus specialists along the Texas Coast, the buffalo hunters of the Llano Estacado, and the mound-building grasshouse people in the Sabine, Red, and Colorado River drainages known as Caddo and Hasanai. At sites dated to earlier times, a similar "social area" is demarcated by the existence of Scallorn points, which immediately preceded the Toyah point time period that is now associated with the Jumanos, and before that, by Pedernales dart points that are found in Late Archaic period sites.

Pecans are nutritious, light in weight, but because of their high oil content can turn rancid within a few months. Unshelled pecans remain tasty until the first hot temperatures of spring, so the Jumanos harvested and bagged pecans and then enlisted their dogs and themselves to carry loads to customers. There is some evidence of a southwestern trade route, with the discovery of at least two small wild and untended pecan groves west of the Pecos River. This reveals the possibility of pecans being a sought after temporal trade item.

Jumanos also traded with Puebloan people of the upper Rio Grande. Before Spanish settlement and the onslaught of European disease, the region had dozens more pueblos than after the “entrada.” Even during Spanish times, Jumanos from the Concho River visited the northern New Mexico pueblos. As evidence, historians point to the Blue Nun story. Loads of pecans run across the Llano Estacado would have had high trade value, especially during last bitter cold days of the cold winters, before the short growing season of the Pueblos began. Archaeological proof of trade in pecans is lacking, however, but not with other trade items.

The Concho River watershed is a well-watered bastion of Central Texas ecology that abuts the arid and windy plains of the Llano Estacado. Its southern location indicates its value in connecting trade routes of the humid east with trade routes of the arid west, for there is less of a waterless distance between the Concho and Pecos rivers than there is further north. Because of the food value of the pecan (especially in ratio to its weight), it must have had trade value. Trade routes of the Indian people before the days of European settlement are matters of conjecture, as are the trade items themselves, beyond the objects made of stone such as the points named above, which withstands the decay of time. The stone and pottery items of trade only hint at what else traveled by trade in the American landscape before Europeans arrived.

By the 1680s the Apache Indians were harrying the Jumano peoples and disrupting their lifestyle. Captain Juan Mendoza, visiting the Concho Jumanos in 1684, left because he realized the Jumanos wanted the Spanish to fight the Apache. Crossbows and muskets were high-tech weapons, in Jumano eyes. Thirty years later the Comanche would send the Lipan Apache scurrying for Spanish protection, too, while the western groups of Apaches (who became known as Mescaleros) and Jumano have settled their differences in the west, trading with mestizo colonies from further south.

The line of presidios and troops officially introduced Spanish governmental influence along the Rio Grande, but beyond, as there had been on the northern frontier for the previous hundred years, a mestizo population not totally shaped by the powers of church and state existed. To survive, people make alliances. Rancherias of people with mestizo/Jumano/Apache heritage developed north of the “Rio Bravo.”

The years from 1680 to 1725 were tumultuous years for the pecan people and the Tejas Alliance that ended a way of life based on trade that may have existed thousands of years.